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Narrative Point of View, sometimes called Narrative Perspective, describes the position of the narrator in relation to the story. Commonly-used points of view include First Person, where the narrator is a main character in the story, describing the events using “I,” and Third Person, where the narrator is a separate entity describing the events of the story using “he” or “she”. Within Third Person there are two sub-categories dealing with how much information the narrator chooses to give. Third Person Omniscient places the narrator above the story, where they can provide narration of events that the main characters are unaware of. A good example of this is the Harry Potter series, where the books sometimes show scenes of the Malfoys, Snape, or Voldemort – things that Harry and his friends would have no way of knowing about. In contrast, Third Person Limited places the narrator inside the main character's head but not AS the main character – events are still described as “he did this”... read more

So-called “Young Adult” fiction seems to have gotten a bad rap lately among parents of teenage students. It seems as though adults tend to view YA as somehow “lesser” to other works, particularly as compared to the classics students are assigned in high school. I suspect this is because “Young Adult” as we conceptualize it today is a relatively recent invention – most bookstores and libraries didn't even have a YA shelf until the mid-1990s. When we were teenagers, there was no “Young Adult” section at the bookstore – there was “Children's” and there was “the rest of the store,” usually organized by genre. So as teens, too old for the Children's section, we chose books from the rest of the store based on genre or author. I enjoyed sci-fi and fantasy, for example, so I found each next reading experience in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy aisle of the store, reading greats like Larry Niven, Neil Gaiman, and Isaac Asimov. Young Adult, though, is a completely different animal. It's... read more

War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, is classic science fiction. Written in 1924, it depicts the catastrophic and totally unexpected near-extinction of humanity by aliens from Mars. One of the main themes running through War of the Worlds is the idea that mankind's assumptions about their world, the universe and the nature of life are constantly being challenged. The main reason the martians' landing is so catastrophic to humankind is because the humans, by and large, have been lulled into a false sense of security. They believe they are capable of overcoming anything, that they are the most powerful beings in the universe, and as such are completely unprepared for the martians' attack. Humans at the beginning of H.G. Wells's novel are portrayed as very self-satisfied. Even when confronted with the landing of the first martian cylinder, humanity is quick to dismiss the event as a mere curiosity. The story on the eve of the first day was “dead men from Mars,” (P. 14) and... read more

I recently read an article which reported the favorite books of 50 celebrities (actors, musicians, politicians, etc). I noticed that several of them mentioned that they started out hating reading because it seemed to always reminded them of schoolwork and school until they made a special connection with a particular book. After that, reading became a joy!   I've long found this attitude surprising because I can't remember a time (after I learned to read, of course) when I didn't love to read. Weird, right? I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority here, but I think I can explain why reading has just never felt like a chore:   1. My parents never placed restrictions on what my siblings and I could read.   This may seem like a terrible idea to parents wary of their children getting their hands on "Fifty Shades of Gray" and similar age-inappropriate material, and I can't blame them. While my parents did not place formal restrictions, they made... read more

Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow, is a story about the American dream. Set in New York during the “period of Ragtime” between the turn of the 20th century and the beginning of World War I, Ragtime tells the story of three different families struggling to find their place in this new America. Doctorow makes use of an unusual writing style in Ragtime. He eschews the use of quotation marks and line breaks during dialogue, making the visual appearance of the novel one of long, blocky paragraphs. In addition, Doctorow writes the novel in third person from the perspective of not one but all of the main characters, allowing us to see the innermost thoughts and feelings of everyone in the story in turn. The characters have various degrees of name specificity, ranging from simply “Mother” and “Father” to “Sarah” (nobody knows her last name) to “Coalhouse Walker Jr.” All of these stylistic decisions come together to make a surprisingly fluid novel where actions speak much louder than words... read more

ALERT: This week's Literature Spotlight contains spoilers for The Hunger Games trilogy. Read at your own risk! This week my Bring Your Own Book club met for tea, and our topic for the month was Dystopias. I had offered to host this month, because dystopia is one of my absolute favorite genres. As I sat listening to the others recount various dystopian tales, I was struck by a thought that had been niggling at me for weeks – there's a significant difference between a dystopian setting and a true dystopian novel. With the increasing popularity of brilliant YA novels such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, it's becoming more and more common to see stories set in corrupt dystopian societies – but are these stories true dystopias, in the classic sense of the word? There's more to a dystopian novel than a corrupt society setting – classic dystopias also share certain plot and character elements. When viewed in this way works such as The Hunger Games seem to fit more as... read more

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a novel told in epistolary form – meaning the story is told entirely through documents, in this case journal entries and newspaper clippings. Epistolary is a very effective technique for writing certain types of stories, and one that I feel is generally under-appreciated. In Dracula the epistolary form is used brilliantly to enhance the sense of mystery and suspense in the novel, and to add to the overall chilling effect of the story. One of the ways in which epistolary form enhances the suspense is through the use of first person narration – from multiple sources. In a traditional first-person narration the reader follows a single protagonist, knowing only what they know and seeing only what they see. This can be a welcome insight into a character's psyche, but can also be restrictive to the author since they cannot add outside information to the story. In epistolary form many characters can contribute first-person narratives to the novel at once,... read more

As a literature teacher, my favorite activity ever (bonus that it's educational) is reading in a setting that lends itself well to the book you are reading. In the case of literature, the possibilities are only limited to what's available. One of my favorite memories from last summer was reading Dracula on a back lit Kindle at twilight in my front yard, while bats swooped around above me and the moon rose. Some other fantastic matches?              1. Secret Garden in a botanical garden, or sitting in the middle of your own garden at home or a friend's              2. Paradise Lost in the same setting, but maybe around eight or nine o'clock, in that last hour of readable light, when the light starts to fade and shadows grow longer and take over the landscape              3. Inferno (by Dante... read more

This past weekend I went to see the long-awaited movie adaptation of John Green's bestselling novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” I'm a big fan of alternate-medium depictions of various art forms (movies based on books, theater, or games, books that expand upon a movie or TV show, etc.) and I love to think about the ways in which a story is adapted for a new medium. Movies, TV, books, and live theater all have their own distinct methods of storytelling, and it's an enlightening exercise to think about how the source material has to change to fit the new style. The Fault in Our Stars movie is one of the most faithful, and I think successful, adaptations I've seen in a long time. I'd like to take a moment to discuss a few of the ways in which I felt they most successfully navigated the transition from book to movie. I'll refrain from spoilers in case any readers have not read the book or seen the movie yet. Visual Effects The Fault in Our Stars, in book form, contains a... read more

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a novel about guilt, morality and emotion. Throughout the novel many characters espouse the idea of reason and willpower over emotion – that if you have sufficient mental faculties you can prevent emotion from getting in the way of your actions and behave truly rationally. The student Raskolnikov believes this with all his heart when he sets out to murder a pawnbroker for the good of the community. This concept is quickly proved to be fundamentally flawed, however, as his inner guilt throws him into emotional turmoil and his brain attempts to protect him from the ugly truth of his actions. Raskolnikov displays several textbook examples of psychological defense mechanisms throughout the course of the novel, proving that even the most thorough reasoning and intellect cannot prevent the emotional and psychological response to a crisis. Psychological “defense mechanisms” are the brain's way of protecting itself from full awareness... read more

School's almost out for the summer, and to me, summertime is a perfect excuse to try learning and growing in new, fun ways. When I tutor students over the summer, I make a concerted effort to inject some fun into our work, so that it doesn't feel like homework. We read fun or unusual books, or we put a twist on a project. Write a creative, narrative response to a work instead of an analytical essay, or go on a little “field trip” to find learning in unexpected places. I've recently devised a new fun “field trip” type activity, and I'd like to share it today. But first, some background. I participate in a monthly “Bring Your Own Book” club, where each month we are given a topic and we each choose a book that relates to the topic to read and bring in. We always end up with a really interesting mix of genres and types of stories, all revolving around a theme (such as “books with animals as main characters” or “books that have inspired music”). Since I tutor high school English,... read more

Since I've been tutoring English literature students, I've noticed a pattern: every time we read a book that I remember reading in my high school classes, I enjoy it far more as an adult than I ever did as a teenager. Time and time again I pick up a book I remember hating in class, resigned to slog through it and discuss metaphor and symbolism with my student, only to find that I thoroughly enjoy it. Each time I come out of the unit with a fresh new appreciation for the work in question. As this happens more and more I've come to the conclusion that there are whole worlds of theme and subtext in many novels that are only apparent to a reader who has reached adulthood, because they require the reader to have experiences beyond those of an average high-school student. In today's Literature Spotlight I'd like to illustrate this point using a recently-transformed work for me, A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. One of the main themes in A Doll's House is the idea of Nora's reluctance to... read more

Title choice is an often-overlooked aspect of literature. What the author chooses to call his or her work can serve as a window into their intentions, showing in a subtle way the aspects of the novel to which they wish to draw the reader's attention. As an example, take Emily Brontë's classic novel Wuthering Heights. According to the dictionary, “wuthering” means “blowing strongly with a roaring sound” when describing a wind, and “characterized by such a sound” when describing a place. The word also has close associations with the more common “weathering,” implying enduring harsh weather or coming through a storm. Throughout Brontë's novel are references to this idea of weathering out a storm or withstanding howling winds. Most of the major plot developments take place during thunderstorms, and the various characters are likened to different aspects of a storm. This theme comes to a head during Heathcliff's disappearance midway through the novel – not coincidentally in the middle of... read more

Here are some of my favorite English (high school) resources. Check back again soon, this list is always growing! I also recommend school textbooks, your local library, and used bookstores.     (K-12) Readwritethink.org – Click on “Parent and After School Resources,” for a great list, sorted by grade level, to help your child practice a variety of different skill sets at home (ex: giving an interview, thinking critically, writing activities, etc) (Gr 6-12) Englishpage.com – Very thorough grammar lessons (Gr 6-12) TheOatmeal.com/tag/grammar – Short, humorous grammar lessons (Gr 6 -12) Grammarbook.com – Free video lessons on common grammar topics. *Note- some areas of this site are subscription-based. (Gr. 6-12) Grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar – Quick lessons on parts of speech, and tips on writing essays. (Gr 9-12) Owl.English.purdue.edu/owl – Grammar lessons, tutorials on writing essays and using specific formats (MLA,... read more

When students think of text in a classroom, they tend to think of pages of paper filled with words that intertwine together to make a story. Many teachers stick to the traditional way of providing students with novels to teach a unit on a particular topic and then use a film as a complimentary piece to add visualization to the text that the students already read. Instead of using it as complimentary pieces, teachers should begin using film as a non-traditional base text in the classroom. Film not only helps students focus on the writing of text, but it allows teachers to instruct students on cultural representations, visual aspects that play into a textual analysis of a film, and it allows complimentary texts that relate to the film connect to real world events.             Film portrays cultural representations in many ways. It uses sounds, acting, and visual settings to show the audience time period, social class,... read more

Sometimes we find it hard to connect with the images that a poet creates within his or her work. I have found that one's own life experiences can help aid in finding a variety of angles to approaching and understanding poetry. This tool not only applies to poetry but to other sources of literature as well. If we can take time to indulge in our emotions, feelings, thoughts, and physical enviroments, there is a good chance that one may have a more diverse understanding of a piece of literature. 

Philosophy of Education for M.J. T. To me the purpose of education is threefold: (1) provide students with a basis of knowledge, (2) teach students how to reason so that they can continue their education throughout their lives, and (3) instill in them a life-long excitement about and love of learning. Students must acquire a basis of knowledge, a framework on which to sort out and understand how various aspects of information in any subject area fit together to make the whole picture of where we have been and where we are going as a civilization. Science affects philosophy which affects the arts … ad infinitum. Nothing exists in a vacuum-sealed box. All knowledge is recursive and intertwined - reaches out and affects many areas outside the discipline in which it begins. I liken this basis of knowledge to a needlepoint tapestry mesh framework. The threads of different strands of information are worked in at various points. In some way every thread touches every other... read more

For those struggling to get their kids into reading - This is a long post, but I successfully get 95% of my students to want to read non-stop within the first 2 months of school and I would like to share this with you. I kid you not, I have more of a problem with my students reading under their desks during other classes than trying to get them to read. I dunno about you, but I think that is actually a good problem to have! Parents, you can adapt what I am doing from my classroom to your home with ease. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- It's a tricky business. Kids, typically, don't like reading for pleasure. Well, not at first that is. There are a few fundamental reasons for this. 1. They are forced to read. It isn't an option "you must read for 30 minutes each night because I said so and it's good for you," etc. When kids (especially pre-teens/teenagers) are told to do something, they immediately don't want to do... read more

As the school year ramps up again, I wanted to put out a modified version of a Memo of Understanding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memo_of_understanding for parents and students. It seems each year in the rush to get through the first weeks of school parents and students forget the basic first good steps and then the spiral downwards occurs and then the need for obtaining a tutor and then the ‘wish for promises’ from a tutor. Pay attention to your child’s folder or agenda book. A student is generally not able to self regulate until well into high school. Some people never quite figure it out. Be the best person you can be by helping your child check for due dates, completeness, work turned in on time. Not only will this help your child learn to create and regulate a schedule, it prevents the following types of conversations I always disliked as a teacher ("Can you just give my child one big assignment to make up for the D/F so they can pass"; "I am going to talk to... read more

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